space digest

August 3-9, 2015

NASA extends contract with Roscosmos for ISS transportation, companies report 2nd quarter financial results, and many more in our weekly space digest!

Photo of the Week

Far side of the Moon, illuminated by the Sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft and the Earth - one million miles away. Credit: NASA
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Quote of the Week

"I’m not afraid to say this acronym" Jeroen Rotteveel, CEO at Innovative Solutions In Space (ISIS), abbreviation of which reminds one of Islamic State

NASA extends contract with Roscosmos for transportation of its astronauts to and from the ISS

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden sent a letter to Congress, informing members that, due to their continued reductions in the president's funding requests for the agency's Commercial Crew Program over the past several years, NASA was forced to extend its contract with Roscosmos to transport American astronauts to the ISS. This contract modification is valued at about $490 million. Full text of the letter is available online.

Saying that the new contract with Russia costs $490 million (or near $82 million per seat aboard Soyuz spaceship), Charlie Bolden stressed that US crew transportation systems could have been in place this year if Congress had provided the requested funding and urged full funding this year - insight by Space Policy Online.

Almost simultaneously it was announced that Mike Suffredini, ISS program manager who led it from Houston, with its $3 billion annual budget, for the last decade, is retiring from NASA. During that time he has ensured station construction continued smoothly after loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, that it could survive the retirement of shuttles and would remain staffed despite a recent cargo spaceships failures - reports Houston Chronicle.

It is rumoured that mike Suffredini will take a position in commercial space industry. Kirk Shireman, a former deputy space station program manager, will replace Suffredini.

Mike Suffredini, ISS program manager in 2005-2015. Credit: AlloyJared
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  • NASA requests proposals for a Universal Stage Adaptor (USA) that will provide space for additional payloads to ride on the Space Launch System (SLS). USA will be able to host payloads between Exploration Upper Stage and Orion Spacecraft, or to be used in cargo-only missions, required to provide SLS with viable flight rate - NASA Spaceflight.
  • International Launch Services (ILS) concluded its investigation of May 16 Proton-M rocket failure carrying Mexico's Centenario spacecraft. It was agreed that the most probable cause of the failure was higher than expected vibration in 3rd stage steering engine turbopump, which led to its premature shutdown and subsequently to the failure of the mission approximately 497 seconds after lift-off - Press-release.
  • Generation Orbit was awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory for continued development of the GOLauncher 1, a single-stage air launched liquid rocket vehicle designed to fly suppressed trajectories for hypersonic flight research applications - Press-release.
  • An amount of near $7.3 million has been allocated for the development of GSLV Mk III launch vehicle and its launch in 2016 - Business Standard. Also it was reported that India fully commissioned and started operations at its Titanium Sponge Plant, which will produce Titanium alloys for liquid propellant tanks of rockets and satellites, gas bottle/liners, inter tank structures and interface rings for satellites - Press-release.
  • Swiss RUAG Space to establish a composites production capability in the United States at United Launch Alliance's factory in Alabama to provide carbon fiber structures for ULA's Atlas V launchers and to prepare for ULA's new Vulcan vehicle - Via Satellite.
  • Vulcan Aerospace expects to make a decision this fall on the rocket, or rockets, it plans to use with its Stratolaunch air-launch system as it reorients itself toward a promising-looking launch market for small satellites - SpaceNews.
  • Russia delivered to the United States first 2 RD-181 rocket engines for Antares rocket, first launch of which after its late 2014 failure currently scheduled for March 2016. Overall, NPO Energomash plans to deliver four RD-181 engines under the contract with Orbital ATK this year, and another four will be delivered in 2016 - TASS Agency.

RD-180 rocket engines, also built by NPO Energomash. Credit: TASS Agency
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  • ISRO will launch 9 nano/ micro satellites for the United States during 2015-2016. This will be the first time that ISRO will launch a US satellite. Also it means that the US will be the 20th country to sign up for a commercial launch by India - The Economic Times.
  • It is planned to orbit Jilin-1, China's first self-developed remote sensing satellite for commercial use, in October this year. The mission will consist of four satellites, one for high-definition images, one for new space technology tests and another two for video. These satellites will focus on serving commercial clients, while helping with harvest assessment, geological disaster prevention and resource surveys as well - Xinhua News.
  • Lockheed Martin was selected by EchoStar to provide commercial launch services for EchoStar XIX communications satellite. This large Ka-band spacecraft built by SSL, also known as JUPITER 2 satellite, is scheduled to launch in late 2016 on a United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral - Press-release.
  • Russia's VNIIEM Corporation completed integration and tests of Lomonosov satellite, the first one to be launched from newly contructed Vostochny spaceport atop a Soyuz-2 rocket by the end of this year - Roscosmos.
  • Millennium Space Systems initiated production of the first commercial Altair satellite, a low cost platform for Low Earth Orbit spacecraft. Altair 1 uses a flexible 27U form, and is being built under DARPA's Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program, for which the company received $1.91 million contract in 2013 - Via Satellite.

Artist's view of Millennium's ALTAIR satellite platform. Credit: Millenium Space Systems
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  • Satellite imagery provider DigitalGlobe will not sell its highest-resolution imagery to map providers that distribute it free of charge, preferring to pay a revenue penalty in exchange for maintaining the value of data that, for now, only it can offer - SpaceNews.
  • Orbital ATK announced revenue of $1.113 billion in the 2nd quarter of 2015 compared to $714 million year ago - Press-release. Overall, Space Systems division showed sharply higher operating profit based on improved performance in both military and commercial satellite contracts - SpaceNews. Also, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced an agreement between the Commonwealth of Virginia and Orbital ATK regarding repair costs and insurance coverage following the October 2014 launch mishap that damaged portions of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) - Press-release.
  • EchoStar reported total revenue of $794 million for the quarter ended June 30, 2015, compared to $880 million for the corresponding period of 2014 - Press-release. Also it was reported that EchoStar's broadband subscriber base surpassed 1 million and that the pressure to launch more capacity to capture unmet demand was the chief reason it moved to launch EchoStar 19/Jupiter-2 Ka-band satellite aboard ULA's Atlas V rocket (Arianespace's Ariane 5 was not available for the second half of 2016) - SpaceNews.
  • ORBCOMM announced total revenues of $44.9 million, 85% increase over prior year, for the 2nd quarter ended June 30, 2015 - Press-release (PDF). The company also expressed confidence that the recent loss of one of the six second-generation satellites launched in July 2014 is unlikely to repeat - SpaceNews.
  • Harris Corporation reported fiscal 2015 4th quarter results, which included results of Exelis, following its May 29, 2015, acquisition. Revenue in the quarter was $1.53 billion, compared to $1.33 billion in the prior year. Orders in the 4th quarter of fiscal 2015 year were $1.53 billion, compared to $1.09 billion in the prior year - Press-release.
  • ViaSat announced financial results for the fiscal quarter ended June 30, 2015. Revenues grew to $344.4 million, up 8% from the prior year period - Press-release. It was also reported a reduction in subscribers to its US consumer broadband service, saying satellite beams trained on regions of highest demand are fully booked - SpaceNews.
  • Satellite fleet operator ABS's planned purchase of a 3rd all-electric telecommunications satellite from Boeing has been stalled since the July 1 closure of the US Export-Import bank, whose financing had been key to the deal. The contract, valued at about $90 million, is currently in a suspended state as ABS and Boeing investigate alternative financing mechanisms for the ABS-8 satellite - SpaceNews.

Artist's rendering of Asia Broadcast Satellite's ABS-3A satellite, built on Boeing 702SP all-electric platform. Credit: Boeing
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  • Auburn University and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement to explore and advance the applications of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing - SpaceDaily.
  • The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) does not intend to rework its plan for developing and deploying 3 polar-orbiting weather satellites Congress is refusing to fund at the level White House requested for 2016 - SpaceNews.
  • US Senate unanimously approved the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, introduced by Commerce Committee's Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee. The Act reflects needs of a changing and growing industry and aims to encourage the competitiveness of the US commercial space industry, providing 6 key components of the legislation - Press-release.
  • More than a year after the National Research Council (NRC) completed a report outlining different approaches to human space exploration, NASA's advisers are asking the space agency to provide a formal response. The NASA Advisory Council approved that recommendation calling for NASA to provide a response to the “Pathways to Exploration" report that came after a long discussion regarding NASA's ongoing exploration activities as well as one alternative Mars exploration concept - SpaceNews.

Members of NASA Advisory Council and Administrator Charles Bolden visit Langley Research Center in July 2014. Credit: NASA, via SpaceNews
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New Tech & Tests

  • A prototype capsule that one day will return science experiments to Earth was tested by releasing it from a high-altitude balloon. Technology like this capsule, developed by Terminal Velocity Aerospace, could one day return biological samples and other small payloads from space in a relatively short time. NASA's Flight Opportunities Program funded the flight test - NASA.
  • Airbus won an approval from the US Patent Office for a hypersonic plane that would slash the journey time from Paris to Tokyo to under three hours, from 12 hours. The idea of Concorde's hydrogen-powered successor, first published in 2011, is to use three different kinds of engine power to hop, skip and jump above the atmosphere, yet taking off from a regular runway - Reuters.
  • Aerojet Rocketdyne is working with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to use 3D-printed parts on RS-25 engines to be used to power super-heavy Space Launch System rocket - Space Alabama.
  • Titan, one of the largest composites manufacturing robots created in America, will help NASA to build the biggest, lightweight composite parts ever made for space vehicles. Photo galery of the robot and visit of NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman at Advanced Manufacturing Composites Technology Center, where it is installed, is below:

Space Exploration

  • NanoRacks negotiated a historic agreement to fly a Chinese experiment on the International Space Station, a small but symbolic maneuver around a law that bans any scientific cooperation between NASA and the communist country - Houston Chronicle.
  • The pace of the European Space Agency's development of a power and propulsion module (Service Module) for NASA's Orion crew capsule will likely determine when an unpiloted test flight of the spaceship and its heavy-lift rocket will take off. The first flight of NASA's Space Launch System is currently penciled in some time between July and September 2018 - Spaceflight Now.
  • In what scientists say signals a paradigm shift in interplanetary science, NASA selected a shoebox-size mission to search for water ice and other resources from above the surface of the Moon. Called Lunar IceCube, the mission is one of several public-private partnerships chosen under NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP). Among the first small satellites to explore deep space, Lunar IceCube will help lay a foundation for future small-scale planetary missions - NASA.
  • Canada's MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) announced that it signed a contract amendment with the Canadian Space Agency for CA$33.8 million (near $26 million) extending funding for ongoing support of the Mobile Servicing System on the International Space Station through October 31, 2017 - Press-release.
  • Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center continues to take shape as SpaceX has completed the road from its processing hangar to launch stand. A transporter-erector will move Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets to position them above the flame trench for liftoff on flights carrying astronauts to the ISS and other launches - NASA blog.

View at the Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA
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  • DigitalGlobe, leading global provider of high-resolution Earth-imagery products and services, launch amazing new website.
  • Update in a blog of Jan Woerner, new President of the European Space Agency, dedicated to his first 4 weeks leading the agency.
  • Astrobotic Technology presented its Moon rover prototype during the White House's first ever 'Demo Day', recieving a positing response from Barack Obama. “It'll be like FedEx on the Moon, UPS on the moon,” said company's spokeswoman Jackie Erickson.
  • World Economic Forum officially announced its list of 2015 Technology Pioneers - and team of Spire was one of them. The select group of companies are focused on design, development, and deployment of new technologies that will have a significant impact on business and society across the planet. Past Technology Pioneers was companies such as Google (2001), Wikimedia (2007), and Kickstarter (2011) - Press-release.
  • Euronews made an interesting report on visiting a factory in Vernon, France, where Vulcain and Vinci rocket engines are manufactured and tested.
  • A set of wonderful images to compare size of the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with a few cities across Europe was published on ESA's Rosetta mission blog.
  • Donald Trump, popular businessman and Republican presidential candidate, supports Prestwick airport in Scotland to be chosen by the UK government as a launchpad for commercial spaceflights. Moreover, if it is chosen, he will offer VIP packages for passengers at his nearby Turnberry golf resort - The Sunday Times.
  • Planetary Society members helped the artists at Chop Shop select historic robotic spacecraft missions to turn into screen-print posters.
  • 2.5 years after an expedition led by CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos raised them off the ocean floor, historic rocket engine parts that launched NASA astronauts on at least three missions to the Moon are now preserved for museum display - collectSpace.

Apollo F-1 rocket engine parts recovered from the ocean floor by Bezos' Expeditions. Credit: collectSpace
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